Future Urban Ventilation Network – The Breathing City

A photograph of a European city.

The Future Urban Ventilation Network (FUVN) is a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) funded research network, under the 2020 SPF Clean Air Programme, that brings together researchers and practitioners across the UK to develop a new “Breathing City” methodology to manage exposure to air pollution by considering the airflows between indoor and outdoor environments.

Our vision is to define a new integrated health evidenced approach to urban and building ventilation design for vulnerable communities – The Breathing City. Quantifying and managing health risks from air pollution relies on understanding how airflows transport pollutants through urban and indoor environments resulting in human exposure.

Together, we will:

  • define a new holistic methodology to evaluate coupled indoor-outdoor flows in the context of air quality challenges for health, together with impacts on thermal comfort, noise and energy use;
  • place health outcomes at the heart of building and city design to enable planners, architects, engineers and communities to design, manage, adapt and use urban environments, to address inequalities and minimise air quality exposures for those most at risk from the effects of air pollutants.
  • engage researchers, clinicians, practitioners, policy makers, regulators and the public to scope this new approach and provide leadership to the research and impact activities needed to make it a reality.

In June 2021 we published a Scoping Document setting out the key challenges and opportunities that can shape the future of ventilation in urban settings.

Need for a New Approach

Our cities are already changing and will evolve significantly over the next century. Changes in emissions sources, urbanisation and climate change as well as technology and lifestyle will impact the mix of pollutants in the outdoor and indoor environments as well as the potential for controlling exposure to these pollutants. As we gain more evidence for the health effects of particular pollutants it is imperative that we have a set of tools to adapt our built environments to respond effectively to the changing threats associated with air quality.

Inequality compounds the impacts of poor air quality and we, therefore, need approaches that consider the interaction between the people, buildings and the city, and at the same time “design out” high air quality risk zones that impact the most vulnerable. This defines the context for our overarching grand challenge – how can we advance modelling, measurement, technology, design, guidance and policy to allow the integrated ventilation of cities, buildings and people without costing the earth?

Our primary focus is the physics of the indoor-outdoor exchange, and how through understanding this we can develop innovative new solutions to tackle current and future air quality challenges. Human exposure to air pollution is underpinned by airflows – the flow at different scales within the external environment, the air exchange between indoor spaces and the outdoors, the flow within buildings, and the flow in and around the human body. These airflows disperse, transport, dilute and deposit airborne pollutants and are fundamental to determining aspects such as rates of reactions for complex air chemistry. However these airflows don’t just determine air quality, they are also a major influence on the thermal environment, humidity, noise and energy demand of a city. Being able to accurately model airflows and how they transport pollutants is at the heart of being able to make accurate predictions of future scenarios and developing effective solutions; innovation in urban design, ventilation solutions and air cleaning technologies all require a significant understanding of the fluid dynamics that determines the physics of pollutant transport.


The FUVN network is expected to benefit multiple people and organisations both during the funding and through subsequent research and networking activities. Network members and their organisations will be the initial beneficiaries with impacts on industry, public sector and academic research and policy makers through the network events and small scale research activities. These impacts are likely to range from knowledge exchange and improved understanding to direct influences on strategy and innovation in organisations through the outcomes from workshops and small scale research activities.

Beyond the duration of funding, we expect that the network will act as an enabler for larger-scale research and innovation projects linking members in academia with industry and public sector partners. The range of organisations who may benefit ranges from SMEs to large multinational companies and includes public health and NHS bodies, architecture, urban design and city planning, building design and construction, organisations developing sensors and smart technologies, the ventilation industry, organisations that maintain and manage buildings, and professional and policy facing bodies who are responsible for guidance, standards and regulation. Beneficiaries also include the researchers within the network, particularly early career researchers and PhD students. The network is expected to influence aspects of air quality explored by other networks funded through the same grant call as well as projects across the UKRI Clean Air Programme.

The FUVN network focuses on enabling approaches that could have substantial benefit to the assessment of sensor data, chemistry, fate of specific pollutants, exposure and health risks, as well as to facilitate an assessment of specific environments. Likewise, the knowledge generated through these other networks and projects will benefit the FUVN Breathing City approach. By working closely with the other networks and Clean Air Champions we will identify opportunities for collaboration and co-benefits. The FUVN approach aligns to the Clean Air Framework development and could directly support the models that sit within this structure; our partnership with the Met Office will support this impact.

FUVN is expected to benefit the wider public and community groups. Community science activities will raise understanding of ventilation and air quality among those involved in the small-scale research programme, while dissemination of network outcomes in a format that is accessible to the public could have a national impact on awareness of effective ventilation for health.

Project website